What does it mean to serve the community?

“It would feel disingenuous to reach out in a nontraditional way to the community, because we’re not in a position to offer anything. Our best way to reach the community is through education”

The above quote was said by Sarah Zimmerman, the Interpretative Programs Coordinator of the First State Heritage Park in Dover Delaware. Sarah’s thought reflects those in Excellence and Equity. Both sources agree that the best way for a museum to serve its community is by providing the very best educational opportunities they are capable of. Sarah tells us that her museum would love to provide more services to community members, but her organization does not have the resources to support it. This poses a question regarding the constant quest for today’s museum to stay relevant. In an effort to be more essential in the lives of community members, is it a museum’s duty to provide non-traditional services?

Of course a museum should provide opportunities for events and activities that their audience views as important. If a local organization wishes to hold an activity that does not divert needed resources from education, a museum professional should be happy with this chance to actively serve the community. But what should an institution do when these activities cannot be done without taking resources away from the main mission? What does a museum do when they can’t manage to adequately provide these sort of nontraditional services AND exceptional education? According to the AAM, a museum is a place of education first. But what happens when a museum can best serve its community by focusing less on education?

This post was written using the following sources:

–Interview with Sarah Zimmerman, Interpretative Programs Coordinator, First State Heritage Park, October 10th, 2011

Excellence and Equity Education and the Public Dimension of Museums, American Association of Museums 1992

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About Abbie

Proud member of the Cooperstown Graduate Program Class of 2013. Professional interests include interpretation, education, public program development, and museum theater.
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2 Responses to What does it mean to serve the community?

  1. You raise an interesting question. If a museum feels that it is not providing the services to the community that the community wants, should the museum evaluate it program offerings and try others?

  2. abcohen12 says:

    I believe that the boundaries between educational offerings and non-traditional, community services can be more porous than we think. In fulfilling their educational mission, museums provide an environment for those of different backgrounds to interact with and learn from each other, with the hope of increasing tolerance and understanding of diversity.

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